EU Fines 14 Companies For Price Fixing Road Bitumen

(Brussels) — None of the construction companies applied for leniency. Ballast Nedam, which was fined EUR4.65 million, first joined the cartel in 1996, when it became a major road builder in the Netherlands. Wintershall AG, fined EUR11.6 million, sold its bitumen business to BP at the end of 1999. Others bitumen suppliers fined were Esha, EUR11.5 million and Kockner & Co. AG (KCO.XE), EUR10 million. Bitumen buyers fined include Ballast Nedam NV (33654.AE), EUR4.65 million, Dura Vermeer NV, EUR5.4 million, Heijmans NV (34193.AE), EUR17.1 million, Holladsche Beton Groep NV, EUR7.2 million, Koninklijke Groep BAM NV (33731.AE), EUR13.5 million and Koninklijke Volker Wessels Stevin NV, EUR27.36 million. In its statement, the commission said Volker Wessels Stevin had obstructed its probe, refusing commission investigators access to its facilities. “The result of the cartel was the price of bitumen was higher than it otherwise would have been,” said E.U. antitrust spokesman Jonathan Todd. Although bitumen is a “small market” Todd said the “fine is very high compared because “very large companies were involved, the cartel lasted for a time and that it was a very serious infringement.” In addition, some companies were “repeat offenders” and some “obstructed our investigation.” He said similar probes were ongoing in both the Belgian and Spanish bitumen markets. BP was granted full immunity from a fine which would otherwise have been EUR30.78 million, while Kuwait Petroleum Corp. had its fine reduced by 30% to EUR16.6 million. Shell, Total SA (TOT) and Nynas, also claimed a reduction of the fine, but failed to qualify. Shell’s fine was upped by 50% because it had participated in other similar cartels, the commission said. Total was fined EUR20.25 million and Nynas EUR13.5 million. The commission granted BP PLC (BP) full immunity for cooperating in the investigation. In contrast, it doubled Royal Dutch Shell NV’s (RDSA) fine to EUR108 million as a repeat offender. The cartel fines represent the seventh largest ever levied by EU regulators and underline their determination to fight cartels. Companies are liable to up to 10% of their worldwide turnover if they participate, but they can appeal all decisions to the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg. In 2001, the commission imposed fines of EUR790 million on a vitamin cartel. Last year, it imposed fines of EUR388 million on a hydrogen peroxide cartel and EUR344 million on an acrylic glass cartel. SOURCE: Easy Bourse

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